Preparing for the winter

winterCharis CEO and chairman Graham Ayres (pictured © Charis) outlines the winter preparations the company is making to help housing associations with administering support grants for their more vulnerable residents.

The good news is in - Ofgem has decreased the energy price cap to its lowest level since March 2022. A seven per cent drop to £1925 will potentially be followed by a further drop to £1823 in October according to Cornwall Insight. This is great news for householders who can finally see some breathing space.

However, the landscape is not going to change for millions of residents who are still falling through the cracks when it comes to balancing income with outgoings which continue to be disproportionately high.

Food prices are still 14 per cent up on the same time last year, petrol prices are once again rising at the pumps, and core inflation remains stubbornly consistent. Economic forecasters predict continuing pressures on the cost of living for the next 12 months. Bear in mind as well that the standing charge rate has been increased - every home still has to pay £300 before they even consume any gas or electricity, and there is no additional government grant.

Unchanging trends but increasing numbers
After 20 years in business, we are fully used to the yearly trends in terms of the demand on hardship support and funding. The summer to winter fluctuating cycle has not changed drastically over that time. What has changed is the number of people needing help, and the different types of help available.

Our Charis Shop platform saw a record number of transactions made by our housing association partners during the winter months last year, reflecting the growing crisis in families affected by both food and fuel poverty. In fact, since the Shop was first launched in 2020, the initial dozen or so customers that first started using it have grown to a staggering 650.


Image © Paul Vasarhelyi

Back end support to help strengthen the front line
Housing associations are often at the front line in providing support for the range of challenges and issues faced by their tenants every day. Help with food and energy bills make up the largest proportion of transactions that go through the Shop every day.|

While Charis’ legacy is founded on the utility sector, its funds administration platform has adapted to integrate a wide number of other applications, from white goods and electrical appliances, to supporting vital social care initiatives distributed through the NHS and GP surgeries.

Over the years it has created a number of partnerships with housing associations, creating funding solutions for a wide range of issues which are often only pertinent to specific organisations. Many of the housing providers we work with have unique initiatives to support their residents, such as Clarion’s Ready2Work scheme that aims to support residents at various stage through their employment journey with re-training and even business start-up grants for the more entrepreneurial. Whatever the scheme, Charis can adapt.


Image © Jelena Stanojkovic

Facilitating regulatory obligations
After 20 years in business Charis fully understands the transparency and audit trail requirements of associations who are in receipt of government grants and other sources of public or private funding. This knowledge is woven into the very fabric of our platform, to give housing providers the reassurance that all regulations are being met automatically and immediately. As well as removing this time intensive chore from the to do list for associations, it also removes the stress which is often involved.

Outside of its operational activities Charis is mindful of every individual beneficiary. For many residents the admittance of needing help can be steeped in shame and stigma. Charis has evolved its platform to work quickly and seamlessly. Once eligibility checks have been carried out and approved, vouchers or payments are made quickly and digitally, direct to the applicant’s phone via text message or email. Not only does this methodology improve overall efficiencies for the housing provider, it also gets the funds to the resident in a faster and more discreet manner.